Client Doris Hart with Andrea Winterbottom (r), Congregate Meals Program Coordinator, and Angela Webb (l), Congregate Meals Program Hostess.

Population Health: Congregate Meals Program provides nutrition and social connection

This is the first installment in our five-part series that spotlights the North Shore Population Health programs. Last week’s story provided an overview and introduction to Population Health.

For the last 15 years, Andrea Winterbottom has been the indefatigable leader behind the Congregate Meals program (casually referred to as the Diners’ Club) in VCH’s North Shore Population Health and Chronic Disease Services area.

Celebrating 30 years

Congregate Meals is exactly what the term means – a gathering of people for meals. In this case, it’s serving 650 meals a month (mainly dinners) to about 400 North Shore seniors, most of whom live in subsidized housing in the lower Lonsdale and Parkgate areas as well as at Zajac House and Capilano House. The meals, which cost $5-$7, are served in each of building’s dining halls. In Parkgate’s case, it’s at the community centre.

In 2017, Congregate Meals celebrated its 30th anniversary with a grand party that included the mayor of the City of North Vancouver. Helping Andrea run the program are four casual staff members as well as 14 volunteers who help the hostess set up tables, serve meals, engage with the diners and help tidy up.

Meals provide nutrition and social connection

“The meals provide nutrition to the seniors but most importantly, companionship,” says Andrea, Congregate Meals Program Coordinator. “There is a social element to the meals. It can be very lonely for older adults who live independently, many of whom no longer like to cook. The meals offer the opportunity to meet other seniors, develop friendships and participate in a number of activities.”

A long-time client of Congregate Meals is Doris Hart, who turns 95 this year and is a continuing source of inspiration to Andrea.

“It’s very rewarding to meet and work with people like Doris,” says Andrea, “She’s had quite the life – she worked in the shipyards as an engine fitter’s helper, joined the army where she was in charge of rations, raised three children, lost a leg to cancer as well as losing her only daughter to MS. She’s been in LGH a couple of times over the last year, but she’s always happy to come back to her apartment and live independently. She doesn’t spend too much time feeling sorry for herself, even though she can’t do everything she used to.”

Program tackles social isolation

Studies are showing that loneliness and social isolation can shorten a person’s life span. (Last month, Britain appointed its first-ever minister to combat loneliness and social isolation.) Congregate Meals are a way to help build strong and happy social lives for seniors who live alone by providing opportunities to meet new or old friends and joining in on social activities. Keeping seniors healthy and independent can also delay or prevent them from requiring more costly health-care services.

“Andrea is more than a program coordinator and the program does more than provide nutritious meals,” says Erin Black, Lead, North Shore Population Health Team.

“It is about social connectedness – Andrea connects the diners to each other, their neighbours, with their community but also with VCH services.”

The meals are not the only highlight for Doris. She takes advantage of almost all the activities offered in her building, such as laughter yoga, brain fitness, podiatry, book club and health-related talks organized by the Seniors Supported Housing Program. She attributes her longevity to staying mentally and physically active.

Doris Harts book club is reading journalist Amanda Lindhout’s A House in the Sky: A Memoir.

“You always have to keep moving physically if you can, as well as doing mental exercises if you want to live a good, long life,” says Doris, who particularly enjoys attending book club. On her reading list now is journalist Amanda Lindhout’s A House in the Sky: A Memoir, which recounts her early life and hostage experience by Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

“I like something that’s challenging,” says Doris, who also subscribes to a daily newspaper.

If there is one activity that really puts a smile on Doris’s face and elicits chuckles, it’s laughter yoga.

“We do a lot of stretching but we also walk around the room and pretend we’re penguins and it’s just wonderful,” laughs Doris.

For more information about the program, contact

Next week: VCH News spotlights Active Living.






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